Roo Rogers on the Rise of Collaborative Consumption (Podcast)

TreeHugger: How has the web facilitated the collaborative consumption model?

Rogers: The thing about collaborative consumption is that it is innate. It's not something that Rachel Botsman and I invented. It's something that has existed for a very, very long time. My grandparents, and I'm sure your grandparents too, lived in a community. And if they needed something they would knock on their neighbor's door and they would get it. If they needed salt, if they needed pepper, if they needed a ride to the hospital. If they needed someone else to take their kid to school because they were sick that day. That got broken down in the 20th century because of suburbanism and the car, and this isolated idea that going to the mall for the day was a good way to spend your time.

I think the old approach is coming back, and the reason it's coming back is because of the internet. The internet didn't create collaborative consumption, but it brought us back to the basic roots of collaborative consumption which is the idea of community, that it's good to have community. It's more fun to collaborate with community. It's more fun to do things with people, whether you know them or not.

And the internet, through things such as Facebook, has made that possible. And it's made it cool again. And because of that, collaborative consumption can ride on the wave of not only community, but also reputation and trust in people. We now buy things through eBay from people we've never heard of, often from thousands of miles away. And that's because eBay has found a way to rank and provide reputation points for consumers that we trust.

TreeHugger: How much collaborative consumption do you do yourself?

Rogers: I do all those things, and I should say that my writing partner, Rachel Botsman, who lives in Australia, is doing our entire book tour on Airbnb. Airbnb is a wonderful company that basically recognizes that there is a lot of excessive space that people have in their house--an extra couch, an extra bedroom--and that people should be provided the ability to rent those rooms out. So you can rent a room, anything from a hut in the back of your garden to a castle in Scotland, and the prices range from tens of dollars to thousands of dollars. It's been a tremendous success.

Having kids is, no matter what you do, an incredibly wasteful experience. It's not emotionally wasteful; it's a wonderful thing to do. But from the idea of products and consumption, it is not good for the world. So some of my favorite things are thredUP, and toy-sharing companies that allow me to take the toys or the clothes that my kids grow out of in about 30 seconds and give them to other people, and vice versa.

Then I have to say, I'm a huge fan of eBay. We recently moved, and we, like many people, saw moving as an opportunity to get rid of a ton of stuff. Some of it we put on Freecycle, and some of it we put on eBay.

The stuff that sold on eBay paid for all the movers and the truck and everything we needed to move. It was fantastic. Not only did we get the benefit of getting rid of stuff we didn't need, but it paid for the actual move.

TreeHugger: What about the argument that all of this will go away when the economy stops sucking?

Rogers: I think this is really important. This is not a reaction to the economy. This is a reaction to hyper-consumption, and I think that's two very different things. I think that consumers, young and old, are seeing that collaborative consumption offers a better choice, and that choice is the benefit of the product without having to store it or buy it or find a way to maintain it.

I love the example of the drill that's in the book. Nearly everybody owns a drill. But if you add up all the use of your drill over its entire lifetime, you've probably got something like an hour.

So why do we own and store this thing when we only need it for an hour in our lifetime? Doesn't it make so much sense for the consumer to find a way to borrow it on a tool-sharing website?

Whether the economy is good or bad, it just makes better sense to share and collaborate with others to get the benefit of what you need.

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